High Holidays | Rabbi’s Corner

React or respond? A lesson for the New Year

Rabbi Robert Eisen
Rabbi Robert Eisen

What a summer this has been! It began with an unprecedented number of congregations sponsoring missions to Israel, and then spent most of its days holding us captive to the news, wondering just what might be. Thoughts of falafel, shawarma and coffee like no other in the world gave way to concerns over rockets, terror tunnels and war. In some ways this past summer  was over before it even started. In others, we wished it would end and things would return to “normal.”

I have written elsewhere about my feelings regarding the recent conflict and our need to continually and consistently be there for Israel. Our support is really a statement of our own desire to preserve our presence in this world as Jews. Remember: the world really does not care what Israel may or may not do — we will, as Jews, be held accountable no matter what. And yet, I write now because there is a lesson here that transcends the present moment … a lesson that can enable us to make the coming New Year of 5775 what we want it to be.

The lesson is found in how Israel, even in the midst of this enduring “existential crisis,” chose to respond rather than react.

I know that not everyone will agree with that statement. However, that too is part of the lesson.

What is the difference between reacting and responding? Where responding is goal-oriented and transformative, reacting tends to accomplish very little (in fact, more often than not, it just perpetuates the situation, or makes it worse). Reacting focuses only on ourselves and rarely leads to any sort of worthwhile change. Responding leads us to see a bigger picture and how we can find our place in that vision of what still can be.

Why is that distinction so important? It is important because as we embrace the beginning of this New Year 5775 we have to ask ourselves whether we will react to the opportunities it affords us, or respond? Will we take ourselves, and this season, seriously enough to begin to chart a course for healthy change in our lives, in our relationships with those who matter most to us, and in the little pieces of the world that we inhabit? Or, will we just go through the motions, concerned more with how long a rabbi spoke, or why we had to sing that prayer again … or “Look at what s/he is wearing this year!”?

Why do I say that resistance to my earlier comment regarding Israel is part of the lesson as well? I say that because one of the most difficult tasks with which we engage at this season of the year is admitting and embracing that we have a need to change … that we have not been as focused in how we are living our lives as we could have been … that, though we did accomplish much this past year, did the best we could, still there is room for improvement. Admitting, embracing and accepting that we have a way to go is probably the hardest part of this entire High Holy Days season. However, once we take that step, there is no end to what we can accomplish.

So, put the politics aside (though I bet I did get your attention!). In a few days we will be afforded one of the most important opportunities of the entire year, up front and personal …  the opportunity to begin to make life what we want it to be. Will we take advantage of that opportunity? Will we respond with a passion for what still can be? Or, will we react: piously (and publicly) going through all the right motions without accomplishing much of anything at all? That choice is ours …  and given to us so that we can make the right decision.

May you and yours be blessed with a year of health, a year of happiness and a year of peace.